“It is a kind of good deed to say well; and yet words are not deeds.”
Those words were written by William Shakespeare more than four centuries ago. It’s another way of saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”
While our manner of speaking may have changed over the years, the meaning of this phrase hasn’t; and it is especially true when considering the accomplishments of Gov. Paul LePage.
The governor is well known for his direct manner of speaking, which sometimes rubs people the wrong way and never fails to make headlines. The governor, himself, has acknowledged that he at times has chosen his words poorly.
But, as Shakespeare said, words are not deeds, and the governor’s actions have spoken much louder than his words. Since he has been elected, he has confronted issues head-on, sometimes choosing to take unpopular positions in order to fix the many problems that have been holding Maine back economically.
One of his first priorities after taking office in 2011 was addressing the many problems with Maine’s financial picture. Years of government overspending and imprudent fiscal decisions left our state in a deep financial hole. One glaring example was the unfunded liability in our pension system that had grown to more than $4.1 billion.
Left unchecked, it was estimated the growing debt would have cost the state nearly $600 million a year by the year 2018. That’s money that would have been spent before we could even consider funding education, health and human services, public safety and other critical state government agencies.
By making sensible reforms that didn’t cut benefits for retirees, the governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature reduced the unfunded liability to $2.4 billion. This will save Maine taxpayers approximately $3 billion by the year 2028, the year that the state is constitutionally required to retire its pension debt.
Maine has long had the unfortunate reputation of having one of the nation’s highest tax burdens. LePage fought for and signed the largest tax cut in Maine history. These tax reductions benefit the state’s low- and middle-income earners. The governor also led the way on a sales tax exemption for airplane and airplane parts in Maine, a move that has led to a huge expansion of jobs in Maine’s airline industry.
LePage promised more transparency in government and to clean up corruption in our state agencies. Shortly after he was sworn into office, legislative hearings began into abuses at the Maine Turnpike Authority involving the agency’s director who was accused of using hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money for personal, lavish international vacations. The hearings led to the resignation of the director who is currently serving a prison sentence for his abuse of turnpike authority funds.
The authority is now run by former state Sen. Peter Mills, who is widely respected and has brought integrity and accountability back to the agency.
Another investigation into the Maine State Housing Authority turned up questionable use of funds, inflated prices for public housing units and resulted in the resignation of that organization’s director. LePage chose another very qualified person in John Gallagher to take the reins, and he has proven effective at turning around this important state housing agency.
Likewise, the governor was determined to tackle another problem that he inherited from the previous administration: a debt of nearly half a billion dollars to Maine’s hospitals that went back over four years for Medicaid services that were left unpaid.
Working with the new director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, Gerry Reid, a plan was crafted to use resources from a new, more lucrative liquor contract to fund the bond payments now. Last month, all of the hospitals were paid, and the debt was retired. This is having a positive ripple effect in many of our communities.
This theme is demonstrated in his cabinet and departments with some very passionate, professionals in the fields of education, health and human services, transportation, corrections, finance, and many other fields. These individuals have dedicated themselves to making government more accountable and more responsive.
Many of the boards and commissions are also benefitting from the thoughtful, responsible people that the governor is appointing to oversee agencies and programs that affect our businesses, communities and residents. This may be the best and longest lasting legacy of this administration.
Achieving this will take action, not words. The governor seeks to find the best people he can for the tasks at hand, regardless of political affiliation, gender, educational status or geographic location. All that matters is that they care about Maine and its residents. Those actions speak loudly to me.
Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, serves on the Maine Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.